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A few weeks back I asked my followers to help me with a fiction improvisation exercise. I asked for two names, an occupation, a situation, and three random words. I promised to improvise a short fiction piece based on as many of these elements as possible.
The following short, short (1,000 word) story is what I came up with.
Just FYI, I did this in one sitting, and did no revisions or edits. If I were planning to market the story, of course, I would take it through multiple edits and rewrites. But my purpose here was just to see what I could come up with quickly.
Fiction Improv 1: MRS SWEENY
NAMES: Emily and Tyler
OCCUPATION: Chimney sweep
SITUATION: Forgetting to pick up someone at the airport
3 WORDS (ACTUALLY I ACCEPTED 5): Cat, zipline, catastasis, overcome, drumbeat. (Note: I didn’t use catastasis or drumbeat.)
Emily’s cell phone chirped for the third time. She knew she couldn’t ignore Tyler’s calls forever. The only way to do that would be to turn off the phone—or throw it in the river.
She glanced at the digital clock on her dashboard.
Maybe he’ll give up.
She kept driving. She was still a fair distance from the airport.
The phone chirped again, and she knew it was no use. She had to answer it.
“What is it, Tyler?”
“I need your help. Now.”
“Mother’s flight gets in at two,” Emily said. “You know what she’s like when she has to wait.”
“I really, really need your help.”
Emily could hear the strain in his reply.
“I’m over at Mrs. Sweeny’s. Fluffy got out and she’s up a tree.”
Emily sighed. “Again?”
“Can you come?”
“Is it the tree with the zip line?”
“Can’t you get her down?”
“You know I can’t.” His voice was thin, embarrassed.
“Why?” Emily knew the answer, but this was her price, her pound of flesh.
“I’m afraid of heights.”
“I’m afraid of the cat.”
Emily looked at the clock again. It would be tight, but the house was on the way. She should be able to corral Fluffy and still pick up Mother.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” she said.
* * *
Tyler gazed up into the tree as if he were trying to will Fluffy back down. He knew it was no use. That was the most stubborn cat on the planet. She was also the fastest.
And he was scared to death of her. The cat was huge, and he was sure she had it in for him.
He’d just finished cleaning Mrs. Sweeny’s chimney, had gathered his brushes and was heading out the door when Fluffy shot out ahead of him. She was in the back yard and up the tallest tree before he knew it.
Now all he saw ahead of him was the unemployment line.
If Mrs. Sweeny gets home and finds her $15,000 Savannah up a tree, I’m toast.
He hated bothering Emily with this, but he had no choice. But, if you can’t count on your wife, who can you count on? Besides, it was either that or 911. And he didn’t even want to think about what would happen if Mrs. Sweeny came home and found the fire department at her house.
If the truth be told, he was more afraid of Mrs. Sweeny than a thousand cats. Tall and forbidding in appearance, she reminded him of his seventh grade teacher, a woman who could be described in one word: imperious.
A horn beeped twice—that horn always reminded him of Road Runner cartoons—and he saw Emily’s little white Prius turn into the long driveway.
The cavalry had arrived.
Emily climbed out of the car and came into the back yard. Even from a hundred feet away, Tyler could tell she was not happy.
“Where is she?” Emily asked.
Tyler pointed to the forty-foot live oak near the back of the spacious back yard.
Fluffy, a twenty-pound Savannah that was anything but fluffy—she looked more like a leopard than a cat—was contentedly lounging on a large branch about fifteen feet from the ground.
Emily flashed her husband an exasperated look. Then her expression softened and she walked over to Tyler and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you, but this is the last time I’m doing this.”
Without another word, she climbed the ladder attached to the tree and coaxed the big cat down. After Fluffy was safely on the ground, she was tempted climb back up and ride down the zip line Mrs. Sweeny had installed for her grandchildren.
Instead, she strolled over to Tyler, took him by the hand, and led him over to a large garden swing. “We need to talk,” she said.
“Tyler, this isn’t working.”
Tyler felt his face flush. “I’ve got to do something. I’ll never make a living as a freelance writer.”
“But a chimney sweep can’t be afraid of heights.”
“I’ll overcome it. You’ll see.”
“You don’t need to,” said Emily. “I make enough to support us both. I want you to quit this crazy job and do what you love—write.”
She leaned over and kissed him.
He put his arm around her and they sat together, enjoying the blooming crepe myrtles that surrounded the garden.
And time stood still.
* * *
A taxi horn’s blaring startled both of them awake.
Tyler’s face blanched.
“Mrs. Sweeny!” he said, jumping to his feet.
“Mother!” said Emily. “I forgot to pick her up.”
They both rushed through the yard, toward the driveway.
Tyler stopped dead in his tracks.
Mrs. Sweeny—the imperious Mrs. Sweeny—stood beside the Yellow Cab. Her steel gray hair was piled up on top her head and her face cast in a frown that could wither fresh flowers. She motioned to the cabbie to carry her luggage to the house, then strode over to Tyler and Emily.
“Is the job done?” she said, looking directly at Tyler.
“Yes, Mrs. Sweeney,” he replied.
“Anything go wrong?” she asked.
“No ma’am,” he said with a sidelong glance at Emily.
She nodded curtly. “Good.”
“I’ll just pack my equipment and be on my way,” Tyler said, glad for the chance to escape.
Emily and Mrs. Sweeny watched him as he walked away from them toward the house.
Mrs. Sweeny turned to Emily. “And where were you? My plane got in an hour ago.”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Emily said. “Tyler needed my help and time got away from us.”
“Hmph,” said Mrs. Sweeny looking down at Emily. Then she cracked a tiny grin and raised an eyebrow. “Don’t let it happen again.”
Arm in arm, Emily and her mother followed Tyler into the mansion. Mrs. Sweeny nudged her and said, “Do you think he’ll ever call me Mother?”
So, how did I do? Add your thoughts in the comments below.